For many of us, 2016 begins with a promise—a promise that this year we will accomplish that which has eluded us. The sad truth is that nearly 80% of us will fall off the resolution bandwagon by Super Bowl Sunday; and by this time next year, a mere 5% of us will have succeeded in reaching our goals.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle
People who set goals for themselves and find accountability partners are more successful in achieving their new year’s goals but at the same time, we know it can be difficult.
Why It’s So Hard!
There are two main reasons why we’re so bad at reaching our goals: The first is that we bite off more than we can chew. It may seem reasonable to say you’ll increase your swimming from 2x per week to 4x per week, achieve best times in every stroke, and start a new weight training routine. Unfortunately, that’s an expectation the mind can’t execute under normal circumstances. When we try to develop too many new skills at once, they become competing priorities that leave us distracted, discouraged and overwhelmed.
Another reason most efforts are doomed to fail is that our emotions have a habit of hijacking our behavior. Without a strong ability to recognize and manage our emotions as they occur, old habits are sure to die hard.
How To Form Lasting Habits
Charles Duhigg who wrote “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business”, thinks that habits are reinforced by a three-part loop: Trigger, Behavior, and Reward. The trigger tells you to start the behavior, the behavior is the habit, and the reward is the benefit that you get from that action. Reward teaches us to continue the behavior, over and over again, until it turns into a habit.
Research shows that consistent contexts (i.e. triggers) increase the likelihood of picking up a new habit, and that people who associate positive feelings with the behavior are more likely to repeat them. These psychology-backed strategies will help you develop a new habit and keep it from fading!
Set SMART Goals
When setting goals, it’s super important that they be very specific. Follow the SMART model for success. Ask yourself, is your goal: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time Based? Below are two common new year’s resolutions swimmers make and their improved version using the SMART goal approach:
“I want to swim more this year”
“I’m going to swim 3x per week for 40 minutes for the next 10 weeks, and increase to 60 minutes per swim after week 10.”
“I want to get faster”
“I’m going to swim a 57.5 in the 100 yard butterfly at the state championships in March, and swim under 57 seconds at Nationals in April.”
Can you see the difference?
Why Shooting For Small Specific Goals Works
The concept of small micro-goals makes forming habits easy to start and incorporate into your set routine. Small changes are easier to keep up, so instead of looking to make a giant change to your schedule or training routine, keep it simple. Director of Stanford’s Persuasive Tech Lab, BJ Fogg views habits on a spectrum of motivation versus effort.
It sounds obvious, but the higher the effort, the more motivation required. So if you make something insanely easy to accomplish, like taking an extra dolphin kick off every wall in a set, the mind sees the task as a no-brainer. On the other hand, if your task is difficult and non-specific, like dropping 5 seconds in the 100 fly, your motivation is going to disappear as soon as you hit a small roadblock.
In the above example, if you resolve to take an extra fly kick off every wall in butterfly sets, eventually, you’ll say, “I’m already taking two kicks off every wall, why not take three?”. That’s an additional four kicks underwater per 100! If the set is 2,000 yards, that will mean you took an additional 80 dolphin kicks underwater in just one set!
One measly fly kick? Seriously, thinking that small: one extra fly kick per all can motivate your brain past the starting line, and into taking 6, 7, or 8 fly kicks per wall!
Turn Simple Behaviors Into Rituals
A great way to integrate a new habit into your day is to chain an unfamiliar behavior with an existing one. Think: “If I do a specific activity, then I do this other new activity with it.” Eventually these chains develop into routines that happen automatically. You may not think about it, but you probably already have a bedtime ritual: brush your teeth, floss, set alarm, scroll Instagram feed, lights out!
If you want to make a habit out of a post-swim dry-land routine, make the swim your trigger. If you swim, you must do your dry-land routine.
The trigger can be anything as long as it’s something you do regularly. Fogg, for example, used peeing – yes, peeing, as a trigger and chained it to his new habit, push-ups. Combining both will allow your mental resistance to bottom out – Fogg started with just two push-ups after every bathroom visit!
Whether you’re a competitive swimmer or newbie fitness swimmer, repetition is the key to success. Set SMART Goals, and find a ritual that empowers you to be successful!
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